How to run efficient meetings

August 3, 2021

Traditionally, the meeting format has been a way to align people in the same social context and for stakeholders to share decisions. Coming from a backgrounds in sales, corporate organizations as well as startups it's fair to say that me and my co-founders have encountered some hundred meetings throughout the years. We've formed clear opinions around what has been working well and where we saw room for improvement, and have been persistent in implementing a meeting hygiene which is efficient and purposeful for us.

When the pandemic hit, many found the format of booking hour-long meetings as an easy solution to gain certainty and alignment, since working asynchronously* was not a common practice for most of us who spent half of our professional lives in real-life offices. But research shows that video meetings are draining, and fatiguing our brains and  perception. They also rather create friction and mis-alignment than focus on the right things if not done mindfully and purposefully.

Being a startup that has been asynchronous and distributed from day 1, I want to share some of the guidelines we use at Vaam. To start with, we try to keep most of our heavier meetings on Mondays, and if it's necessary to book an ad-hoc meeting during the week we try to keep them close to time slots which are not disturbing our flow and focus. So let's dive into it!

*not existing or occurring at the same time, aka live.

1. Set the agenda

Make sure the meeting is necessary or if you can collaborate asynchronously. Set expectations on what the purpose of the meeting is before sending an invite to your colleagues. If there is anything participants should read upon or add, make sure to send it out with a clear required action before the meeting, so everyone comes prepared and the focus can be on sharing thoughts and discussing an action plan.

2. Clear objective

When starting a meeting, make sure to give context to the participants so they can follow the topic you might know more about, before diving into the details. Agree on the purpose and the expected outcome before continuing. Take notes or ask someone to do so, to have a collaborative document for everyone involved. We keep all our notes in Slite and have the same document for recurring meetings such as strategy meetings and weekly plannings.

3. Don't speak. Communicate.

Pause frequently and let others ask questions and give feedback. Live meetings should be a two-way communication rather than one person speaking to the rest – that should be done asynchronously through other tools such as Slite, Vaam or Slack. Obviously, we send lots of vaams in our channels when we want to show something or share information that requires quick or no action.

4. Focus

Schedule short meetings rather than long ones, and keep meetings focused. Just because you have an hour booked, don't take it if not needed. People are more engaged and focused if meeting time is 15, 30 or 40 minutes long (👈 not scientifically proven numbers, but based on my personal benchmarking 😛). Try most def to keep them below an hour for good practice.

5. Action plan

Participants should be respectful of everyones presence and time so we don't loose track of discussions and end up in a rabbit hole. If the conversation is getting off topic, the meeting lead should stir everyone back to the objective. The goal should be to land into actions or decisions together, and clear next steps for everyone involved.

As the above is a good set of guiding principles for us, there's no way to never fail following them and as with everything else, we see this rather as a living format for ourselves which will evolve with time as our work environment changes and the team grows. Right now, it serves well though and we manage to keep a good practice of alignment, transparency and certainty for the entire team of vaamigos.

If you have any tips which have worked well for you, I would love to hear them! Feel free to send me an email, or even better – a vaam.

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